Startup Packback Developing New eTextbook Rental Service


Illinois State University graduate Mike Shannon and current ISU senior Kasey Gandham are leading the team behind Packback, a new Chicago-based startup which seeks to change the way students rent digital textbooks. The company will be launching an initial ISU-exclusive pilot program next fall with a select group of publishing partners.

In an exclusive interview Mike Shannon outlined his business model “As students, we experienced first-hand the major flaws inherent to the publisher-student ecosystem. Prices are simply too high, so students resort to the ‘used book market’. This creates a massive revenue hole for publishers, fueling further price hikes. Our model looks to tap publishers back into the ‘used book market’ while allowing students the financial freedom to pay per actual use.”

Students spend a copious amount of money each semester on textbooks for their classes. The digital route often saves a ton of money, but necessitates buying the book outright. One of the benefits of Packback is that you can simply rent the e-textbook for a 24 hour duration to see if it’s the best solution for you. If you decide to purchase it, the initial rental fee is subsidized, making the text significantly more affordable. Of course, you can rent it more then just one day, with different plans for longer durations. The company’s policy is normally around $3.00 per day, which can amount to some great savings! Many classes only reference the textbook for specific assignments or once in awhile. Renting the textbook on-demand can provide tremendous benefits.

Traditional rental programs or buying used textbooks doesn’t give the publisher any more recurring revenue after the initial purchase. One major Publisher is buying into this new model because the company will gain revenue from each subscription as well as the outright sale.

When students use the Packback website, they can hunt around for various course materials for most ISU classes. They can establish the rental period and download the digital texts to their computer.  The book can then be copied to any e-reader, tablet, PC, or smartphone via Adobe Digital Editions. The textbooks can then be augmented to a student’s particular needs. They can make notes, highlights, annotations, change the font, or even look words up in the dictionary.

Mike Shannon told us that “We won first place in ISU’s 2011 Entrepreneurship Day BPlan Competition, received minor funding, and immediately started reaching out to publishers for content distribution rights. One major publisher signed onto the project one morning last January. He gave us two minutes for an elevator pitch, after which his interest was peaked enough to come down to ISU for two full. Kasey and I had both served a year as president to the leading business fraternity on campus, so we arranged a major university-wide speaking event for Brian, the rest of the time was spent discussing Packback.”

Michael Kozlowski (5146 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to